Curtain Time: The Story of the American Theater

Curtain Time: The Story of the American Theater

Curtain Time: The Story of the American Theater

Curtain Time: The Story of the American Theater

Excerpt

Toward evening on June 4, 1821, while New Yorkers strolled on Broadway from the Battery to City Hall Park, two men were inspecting a new, imposing monument in the churchyard of St. Paul's Chapel, adjacent to the fashionable promenade. One of the men was slender and markedly undersized. The other, more robust, appeared tall by comparison, though only of medium height. Many strollers on the avenue would have recognized them instantly.

The taller man, Dr. John Wakefield Francis, was a distinguished physician. A lover of the arts and an inveterate patron of the theater, he considered it a privilege to give his services, without fee, to authors, painters and actors. Moreover, he enjoyed their society and cultivated their friendship. This unconventional taste was condoned by many of his patients because of his professional skill. Dr. Francis' companion had recently given cause for scandal. This had launched a stormy controversy in the New York and Boston newspapers, and public resentment was rising against him. Edmund Kean, the most famous of English actors, had made a brilliantly successful American tour that ended, abruptly, in disaster. Denied a last engagement in New York, Kean was about to take ship for England, yielding, as he said, to "a torrent of hostility."

As the summer evening closed in, the two men lingered at the new monument. Elevated from the ground by two steps, it was a four-sided pedestal surmounted by a flaming urn carved from marble; the sculptured flame pointed

George Frederick Cooke as King Lear
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